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Reinventing French Cuisine, by Pierre Gagnaire

03 April 2008 by

Reinventing French Cuisine
Pierre Gagnaire
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, £25
ISBN 978-1-58479-657-2

France's maverick genius, Pierre Gagnaire, is famous for publishing beautifully photographed books - works of art, in fact - that encompass his food philosophy and musings on ingredients, but lack recipes. So get ready for a shock: he's rectified that in the latest, English, version of Reinventing French Cuisine.

As he says himself in the book's preface, it was time for his "persistent and complete allergy to carefully weighted, well-expressed, and clearly articulated recipes" to bite the dust.

So here, in addition to a definitive laying out of his career in chronological order (from Lyon to Paris, and everything in between, from the mid-'60s to the present), is a definitive number of recipes reflecting the influences on, and development of, his cooking. So, if you have just one Gagnaire book in your library, it should be this one.

There are four main chapters, equating to certain phases in Gagnaire's culinary life, and within these each recipe has an identifying year. For instance, the first recipe - "La Marta", which refers directly to favourite childhood sweets - is stamped with 1965. Typically for Gagnaire, he gives you the bones of the recipe, in this case how to make little chocolate moulds, but leaves you to work out fillings for these, handing on tantalising suggestions, like redcurrant jelly and passion fruit seeds for white chocolate cases, without specifying quantities. It's a reflection of his well-known tendency to improvise, but you don't hold three Michelin stars without consistency, do you? Thankfully, other recipes are more detailed.

There's a bonus section of "basic" recipes at the back of the book, which besides stocks includes chantilly foie gras "in the style of Herve This", and various spice and aromatic pastes: anyone for tobacco powder? And the book is bursting with enough Gagnaire dishes to give a window on his culinary soul.

Gagnaire is known for surprising and multiple-ingredient matches, skilful temperature and texture contrasts, and unmatched visual artistry on the plate. The complexity of his food has divided opinion over the years, but there's no doubt the book sheds light on the very individual style of one of the world's great chefs, providing huge inspiration in the process.

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